Published in London from 1799–1807, Dr. Thornton’s magnum opus, Temple of Flora; or Garden of Nature. Picturesque Botanical Plates of the New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus, is an exquisite homage to Carl Linnaeus’ treatise on the sexual system of plants and considered by many to be the most famous of all florilegia. “As specialists in the antique natural history genre, we are pleased to exhibit such an influential and rare set of works from this fascinating period”, says Joel Oppenheimer.
Temple of Flora, 1799-1807
Educated as a physician and botanist, Dr. Thornton devoted much of his adult life to creating his remarkable artistic tribute to the renowned Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. Employing the skills of eminent artists and artisans
of the time, these engravings incorporate a masterful use of engraving techniques, including line, stipple, and mezzotint applications at the pinnacle of the Golden Age of Natural History Art. Each flowering plant is depicted in a dramatic
and often surreal setting that glorifies the aesthetic and exotic appeal of the subject while also extolling the imperial prowess of the British empire at that time. The dramatic backgrounds feature romantic locales in the distant regions
of the world to which these plants were native. This exhibit offers a unique opportunity to view this rare work in its entirety for the first time in the U. S. at the Joel Oppenheimer Gallery in Chicago.
Dr. Robert John Thornton, 1768-1837
Dr. Robert John Thornton’s Temple of Flora is perhaps the single most famous of all florilegia of the nineteenth century. As the driving force and visionary behind the creation of this great work, Thornton employed additional artists and engravers to produce it. Printed in color and finished by hand, a total of 70 plates were intended to be issued. Only 33 separate images of flowering plants were completed before the collapse of the project and Thornton’s financial demise, bankrupted by his fanatical pursuit of artistic perfection.
In 1804, a gallery was opened in London where the original paintings were exhibited, and catalogs of the works were offered in an effort to promote his ambitious publication. Having exhausted his personal financial resources, Thornton contrived an elaborate sales scheme to pay for the work. A license to hold an official lottery was obtained and all the works were sold as prizes.
The creation of Dr. Robert John Thornton’s opus, Temple of Flora, is intricately entwined with the history of botany, 18th century exploration, and the ensuing fascination with newly discovered exotic plant species brought back to Europe. As explorers traveled the globe, interest in collecting new species of plants increased and heightened the excitement surrounding all things botanical. Dr. Thornton came of age during this time of artists and botanists working
together under royal patronage to describe, illustrate and celebrate newly discovered botanical wonders. Thornton was challenged to demonstrate Britain’s artistic superiority in this field.
Complete sets of Temple of Flora are exceedingly rare today. Joel Oppenheimer Gallery is pleased to announce the debut of this inspiring collection at their historic gallery space in Chicago.